The NES has a massive library of games, so I don’t have to go scraping the barrel for racers. I’m happy about this because I really don’t like having to play through bad racing games just to tell you all what you already can guess.
You can tell from that iconic box art that this was one of the release titles for the NES. The graphics look a bit simple in some spots, but the gameplay holds up superbly.
8-bit dirt bike racing at its finest. There are two modes of gameplay and a track editor. Sadly, this game is single-player only, but when you play “SELECTION B” you can at least race against computer opponents.
There are five side-view side-scrolling tracks. Like most racing games, these are laid out in order from easiest to most challenging.
Here’s what you see when you start the race. Your bike and rider are red. The thing you need to watch most, besides the track of course, is your engine temperature. If you overheat that engine, you will be forced to stop for a few moments. Luckily for you, there are some spots on the track that you can drive over that will instantly cool your engine right down. I’m pretty sure this is how dirt bike racing works in real life too.
I’m not off to a good start, and already my temperature is rising.
This game reminds me of something I want to talk about, and that is “button fatigue”. I don’t know if there’s a technical term for it, but this happens to me when I play a lot of racing games. Usually – especially for earlier systems like the NES – the accelerator is mapped to a button on the gamepad. To accelerate, you press the button, and to win the race, you have the button pressed down most of the time.
This can get tiring for your thumbs. Newer systems have recognized this problem and there are games with more comfortable controls. Certain racers for the PlayStation and the Dreamcast come to mind. A lot of later PlayStation racing games map accelerate and decelerate to the right analog joystick on the gamepad. This is way more comfortable than having to hold down one of the buttons on the face of the controller for the whole race. Many Dreamcast racing games map accelerate and decelerate to the controller’s shoulder buttons. This is my preferred configuration, because using one’s finger to grip a trigger down for extended periods of time is more comfortable even than pushing an analog joystick forward.
I just had to get that off my chest. Back to Excitebike.
I’m catching up to my three fellow racers now. For a game that came out in 1984, the animations and sounds in this game are damn good.
That arrow-like patch in front of my bike is the spot that will instantly cool my engine down. These tracks have lots of fun jumps, obstacles and other features that you need to be aware of. The way the bike handles is great, and I don’t think there’s a single aspect of this game that I would improve upon, only that I would make 2-player mode available.
Here’s part of the animation of me getting thrown off my bike, and then scurrying back to it. This animation in particular is top-notch.
This race was only two laps, and I thought that the purple rider had beaten me…
…but I made it in first place. Hooray for me!
Each of the five built-in tracks has a different colour scheme. Here is track #2.
Track #5. This one is tricky because it’s harder to see some of the obstacles you need to avoid.
Here’s a look at the track editor. The “SAVE” and “LOAD” options don’t actually work in this game, unless you’re playing this on the Famicom and you have a Famicom Data Recorder ready to go with a blank cassette. For what it’s worth, I tried those options in my emulator. “SAVE” took about a minute and then reported back “FILE SAVED”. I found no such file in my emulator’s folders. “LOAD” made the emulator hang. I think that if you really want to save your custom Excitebike tracks somewhere, somebody has probably hacked or jerry-rigged a solution.
The interface was a little confusing to me at first, but here is how you construct a track. Your bike is a place marker. The B button will place the currently selected track item where your bike is. To move your bike (forward only) press A.
Left and right on the direction pad will move that pointer under the letters. Each letter stands for a different track element, so if you want that arrow-like cool-down strip, move the pointer to “M” or “N”, depending on where you want it placed.
“CL” is like undo, and clears the spot. “END” will place the end of the track where your bike is. It’s a little mound marked “FINISH”.
“LP” is the number of laps, and you can choose 1 through 9.
Once you have entered the number of laps, pressing B will return you to the editor menu. You can then choose to play your track with game mode A or B.
And that’s Excitebike. It’s a very fun game, and every fan of racing games should give it a try. And the intro music is a hoot too.
Knight Rider (1988)
Oh, fuck yes! Did I ever love the show Knight Rider when I was a kid. Back then I was certain that when I grew up, I would have a talking black Trans Am just like Michael Knight.
But then I grew up. It happens to all of us, doesn’t it? I remember how my dreams of Trans Am ownership were shattered when I heard my music teacher talk about the one she owned. It was a piece of junk that always broke down. I also learned that Pontiac is an acronym for Poor Old Newfie Thinks It’s A Cadillac.
Sad to let those dreams go, man.
I never had a NES until I lived with an ex girlfriend, and even then I never had this game. And even then, this game came out two years after the TV show was off the air, so I could have never played this during the glory days of the talking Trans Am. I wonder why the delayed release? And I have to say right now that the famous Knight Rider theme music is nowhere to be found in this game, so here’s a YouTube link you can listen to in the background as you play instead.
For one thing, “Knight Rider” isn’t really a racing game. It’s a driving game where your objective is to defeat a group of terrorists. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Just how does David Hasselhoff defeat terrorists with a talking car?
Okay, leave incredulity at the door if you’re going to play this one. It turns out that these terrorists have robbed the U.S. army of a bunch of weapons, including some fancy thing called the P.I.V. Bomb. I don’t think that any of this is the sort of thing that can happen in real life. Oh, and Michael Knight whines about being called off of his vacation. That’s pretty realistic, I guess.
Damn, did I have a major crush on this Bonnie chick when I was a youngen. From what I’ve read, you get to upgrade KITT with more weapons and shields and stuff after each destination you make it to. But it may not shock you to learn that I am terrible at this game, and I have yet to beat the first stage.
Here’s what the driving looks like, and I must say I like it. It goes pretty fast and smooth for a NES game, and you get to drive fucking KITT!
The blue cars are your average John and Jane Q. Citizen. It’s best not to shoot your machine guns or lasers at them. The red cars are the terrorists, and you must make it to your destination in time while avoiding their enemy fire. The yellow cars also appear to be bad guys. I read that there are “allies” on the road, but the yellow cars shoot at you, so fuck em.
Did you see that? The bastard’s shooting at me!
You can shoot at and destroy the terrorist’s cars, but you will sustain a lot of damage to your shield as a result.
Traffic gets heavy, and you must weave in and out of it a lot.
The driving controls in this game are excellent, and part of the reason why I chose this game to review is because it handles so well.
The A button shoots your weapon, while SELECT switches weapon type. START pauses, though the music will continue while the game is paused.
The B button will make your car jump. I think. I don’t remember KITT being able to do that from the TV show, and I’m not sure why you’d need to jump in the game.
Ah, this isn’t going to go well for me.
One car down, two to go. You get three chances.
I think I’m so bad at this game because my natural tendency with games like this is to put the pedal to the metal and blast every motherfucker who gets in my way. This game requires a lot more driving and evasion skill, I believe.
Well, now I blew it. But at least Michael Knight can go back on vacation.
Fuck, even his boss tells him “Game over”.
This game has a “driving mode” that lacks the enemy cars and weapons. It’s just a drive through cities you’ve unlocked in the “mission” part of the game, though you only get a few minutes.
With the main objective of the game removed, there really isn’t much point to it. But I will say that even though this game doesn’t use the very well-known “Knight Rider” theme music, the music they use is pretty good.
This fucking tree was quite an adversary though.
I’m going to be coming back to play this game, even if it’s just to get past this first stage. “Knight Rider” for the NES makes me think of what the game “Spy Hunter” might have been like if it was a first-person racer. Check this one out if that sounds appealing to you.
R.C. Pro-Am (1987)
Here we have one of the first “hit” games made by Rare, who would later go on to make that wonderful game “Conker’s Bad Fur Day“. They stopped existing completely in 2002. Yep. That’s what really happened. Nothing different happened to Rare in 2002. That’s what I choose to believe.
The “R.C.” in the title stands for Radio Control, and if you zoom into that box art up there, you’ll see the little radio antenna on that car. Yes sir, you race little R.C. cars around a track in this game. But that’s not all you do!
You also can collect power-ups on the track by driving over them. And some of these power ups are apparently weapons that you can use to temporarily take out your opponents.
I’m the red car… invisible blinking red in this screenshot.
I haven’t made it far enough to get any weapons yet, but I still have a blast playing this game.
Rare had some talented people working for them, and this game is made right in every way.
That red “N” on the track is one of the flashing letters that you also need to collect. There is one per track, and if you get them all they spell “NINTENDO”. Doing that gets you an upgraded vehicle and lots of bonus points.
This is my usual style of gameplay for unfamiliar racing games… lagging well behind.
That blue thing is an engine block, and collecting those will enable you to reach faster speeds.
The controls in this game are also excellent.
There are hazards on the track that you must avoid, like the puddles above. There are also oil slicks and some different types of hazards in later levels, but I haven’t been able to see them yet.
And I finished 3rd.
Something tells me that’s not very impressive.
Here I go on race number 2.
Not very well…
If you don’t finish within the top three it’s:
Well, I need to play more of this, that’s for sure.
There are continues in this game, but from what I’ve read, you lose your upgrades when you continue.
“R.C. Pro-Am” is one of the games that people remember when they think of the NES, and some consider it to be one of the best games for that console. It is all kinds of fun, and when I first heard of the concept, I didn’t think it could possibly be as much fun to play as it is.
This is one you need to experience if you like to play racing video games. I normally don’t care for isometric top-down racers, but this one is so well-made that even that doesn’t bother me. Find yourself a cartridge to play or give it a spin on the Nestopia emulator.